Mazda ended 2003 as the best-performing Japanese brand in Europe. Sales for the year were up 30.4% at 206,568 against 158,445 in 2002 for a 1.5% market share. In 2002, the market share was 1.1%.

This puts the brand in a solid third place behind Toyota and Nissan among Japanese car makers, edging ahead of Honda.

It also helped the Japanese brands take their overall market share across Western Europe to 12.7% with nearly 1.8 million sales, an increase of 9% over 2002, according to the latest provisional figures from Acea, the European automobile constructors’ association, published on January 16.

Nissan saw its sales increase 12.7% to 398,435 units for a 2.8% market share, while Toyota and Lexus recorded a 7.1% increase to 674,656 sales and a 4.7% market share.

Honda was also up by 6.8% to 192,401 units but both Mitsubishi and Suzuki were down by 1.4% and 3.4% respectively.

Mazda’s strong performance was in a market that fell overall by 1.3% to 14,217,912 units.

The 2003 performance puts Mazda on track for a 2% market share “in the medium term,” according to Dan Morris, president and chief executive officer of Mazda Europe.

In the UK, Mazda recorded sales of 38,900 units, an increase of 34% over 2002. The target for 2004 is 45,000 sales, said Jeremy Thomson, sales and marketing director of Mazda UK.

He is predicting 11,000 sales of the new 3, launched this month, with the 6 remaining strong with 12,000 sales.

Mazda UK managing director Phil Waring has a target of 50,000 UK sales in 2005.